Disabusing Disability: Demonstrating That DISability Doesn’t Mean Inability

Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami

Presented by U-M Professor Oluwaferanmi Okanlami MD, MS

Disability is regularly neglected in conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion, yet it is the one demographic that we may all identify with one day. Disability should serve as a means of demonstrating that we are all much more similar than we are different. 

As a disabled, black, Nigerian, immigrant, cis-gender heterosexual, male, physician, athlete, U-M Professor Oluwaferanmi Okanlami will talk about the intersectionality between all of those identities. He believes that disability is not inability. He encourages us to allow people to demonstrate what they can do, rather than attempting to limit them based on what they can’t. 

Dr. Okanlami will engage the Michigan community in conversation about what each of us can do, within our own spheres of influence, to make sure we are not perpetuating ableism in our personal, academic and professional lives.

At Michigan Engineering, the job of creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community rests not within one organization or group of people, but with all of us. Only in this way can we move the field toward an equity-centered future. Equity-centered engineering is a guiding philosophy at the College that seeks to approach engineering with an intent to close—rather than unintentionally expand—societal gaps.

Transcript for Disabusing DisabilityTM: Demonstrating That DISability Doesn’t Mean Inability

About Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami:

Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami is the Director of Student Accessibility and Accommodation Services at the University of Michigan, where he oversees the office of Services for Students with Disabilities, two Testing Accommodation Centers, and the Adaptive Sports & Fitness Program. He is also an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, and Urology at Michigan Medicine, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“Dr. O” was born in Nigeria before immigrating to the US at a young age. He attended High School at Deerfield Academy and college at Stanford University where he also ran Track & Field, serving as captain his last two seasons and achieving Academic All American recognition. 

He then earned his MD from the University of Michigan before matching into Orthopedic Surgery at Yale. At the beginning of his 3rd year he experienced a spinal cord injury, paralyzing him from the chest down. After two surgeries and intense rehabilitation, he was blessed with some return of motor function, and  navigates the world as a proud wheelchair user, managing the other long term sequelae of an incomplete cervical spinal cord injury. 

He went on to earn a Master’s in Engineering, Science, and Technology Entrepreneurship from The University of Notre Dame, and completed his Family Medicine Residency at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana. He served on the St. Joseph County Board of Health, appointed by then Mayor, now current Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg; and is on the board of the River City Challenged Athletes, a non-profit supporting the area adaptive sports teams. He was featured on Robin Robert’s Good Morning America Series “Thriver Thursday,” and has a catch phrase, “Disabusing Disability,” hoping to demonstrate that DISability doesn’t mean INability. He is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honors Society,  received Michigan Medicine’s Distinguished Early Career Alumni Award in 2020, and was given the “A Teacher’s Teacher Award” by the Academy of Medical Educators.

Nationally, he serves as the Disability Issues representative on the Steering Committee for the Group on Diversity and Inclusion at the Association of American Medical Colleges, sits on the National Medical Association’s Council on Medical Legislation, and was by the White House Office of Public Engagement to participate in the Health Equity Leaders Roundtable Series dedicated to exploring perspectives around Access to Care. He was appointed to the America250 Foundation Health and Wellness Advisory Council and speaks around the country on topics related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, including, but not limited to creating a health system that is accessible to and inclusive of both patients and providers with disabilities, and providing reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities in higher education. He has been featured on CBS News, PBS News Hour, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and is passionate about adaptive sports and fitness, striving to provide access to physical fitness and inclusive recreational and competitive sports for all.